The Kansas City Royals would not be here without James Shields. They bet big on him, in one of the most criticized trades in recent memory, and they won. No pitcher in the major leagues started more games this season, and the Royals got into the playoffs, for the first time in 29 years.
And then they got into the World Series, and then their ace failed them.
Maybe they would not have won anyway. Madison Bumgarner, who is carving himself a spot as an October legend, was on the mound for the San Francisco Giants.
Bumgarner scattered three hits over seven innings, leading the Giants to a 7-1 romp over the Royals in Game 1 of the World Series. In three career Series starts, he is 3-0 with an 0.41 earned-run average.
When Hunter Pence homered in the first inning, the Giants led, 3-0, and, well, game over.
“When you’ve got Madison on the mound, even when it’s 0-0, you still feel very confident,” Pence said.
Bumgarner shut out the Royals for the first six innings, as San Francisco extended its lead to 7-0. He extended his major league record of consecutive postseason scoreless innings on the road to 32 2/3 before Salvador Perez homered in the seventh, and he lowered his career postseason ERA to 2.54.
“He doesn’t let any of the magnificence that’s going around [get to him],” Pence said. “This is the ultimate dream as a baseball player. There is no bigger stage. But he’s just Madison Bumgarner.”
Bumgarner has been what we expected Clayton Kershaw to be this October, and Jon Lester, and Max Scherzer, and Adam Wainwright, and David Price, and Stephen Strasburg.
His first three starts this postseason were mediocre. He passed a kidney stone last week. No matter, he was the Royals’ guy.
The good people of Kansas City had waited since 1985 for a World Series game. They pumped up Kauffman Stadium with noise, with drums, with hope.
Shields killed all three, in the very first inning.
He fooled no one. Gregor Blanco led off the game with a single. Joe Panik flied out, deep to left-center field. Buster Posey singled.
Pablo Sandoval doubled, with Blanco scoring and Posey out trying to score. Pence homered, and a hush descended upon the crowd.
“It was really loud in my head,” Pence said.
The Giants had hits from five of their first six batters. The Kansas City bullpen was up in the first inning.
Shields retired the Giants in order in the second and third innings, but all the outs in the third were hit hard. He did not retire anyone in the fourth, and he gave up two runs.
“Just bad command,” he said.
His ERA in four postseason starts: 7.11. Opponents are batting .346 against him. He snapped at a reporter who asked how Tuesday’s start might have resembled the other three.
“Next question,” he said.
Royals Manager Ned Yost acknowledged Shields “hasn’t been as sharp as he has been” but did not hesitate to confirm him as his starter for Game 5, if there is one.
“When his stuff is right, he’s dominant,” Yost said. “He’s like what you saw off Bumgarner. That’s James Shields.”
For Shields, how many millions might he have cost himself in free agency? He was supposed to be the less glamorous, more durable alternative to Lester and Scherzer. He has pitched at least 200 innings for eight consecutive years.
However, he turns 33 in December. He has thrown 956 innings over the last four years. Is this October a blip, or a warning against guaranteeing him too many years?
That probably will not be a problem for the Royals, not with big-budget teams such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees expected to enter the bidding for Shields.
The Royals have a more immediate dilemma. They waited 29 years to get back to the World Series, and not for that.